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School board candidates: Where they stand

on October 30, 2014

Ten candidates are running for the three seats up for election to the School Board in the West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD). Incumbent School Board members Madeline Kronenberg and Elaine Merriweather are running for re-election.

For more on the 2014 election, check out our forum with the mayoral candidates, and our forum with the city council candidates.

We asked all ten candidates questions regarding their top priorities if elected, and their thoughts on the following issues: charter schools, teacher retention, truancy, community engagement and the bond program.

Below are their responses and a brief profile of each candidate. School board candidates are listed in alphabetical order.

Audio interviews with candidates are available at the end of the article.

Liz Block

Liz Block (Photo by Candese Charles)

Liz Block (Photo by Candese Charles)

“WCCUSD has one of the lowest teacher salaries in the area and we need to be competitive with local districts if we want to retain teachers.”



Block, 61, is an experienced elementary school principal and licensed educational psychologist. If elected, Block will prioritize college and work preparation, district financial transparency and accountability, and improve community relations.

  • Doesn’t identify herself as a charter or public education person, but favors students and student-outcomes and plans to dedicate her time to traditional public schools.
  • Will work on managing teacher retention by having a conversation with teachers to discuss their needs and reasons for leaving. Block also plans on building teacher support, training, mentorship programs and possibly increase teacher salary.
  • In order to decrease truancy rates, Block believes that the School Attendance and Review Board needs to be used effectively and that WCCUSD needs to offer more interesting programs that will increase student engagement. (Here’s more on truancy in WCCUSD:
  • According to Block, WCCUSD needs to respect the community, offer more ways for the community to be engaged, and train community members to work with each other.
  • Block believes that the new school board should not tolerate a lack of transparency. Since bond funds are taxpayer dollars, taxpayers need to know how funds are being spent.

Peter Chau

Peter Chau (Photo by Candese Charles)

Peter Chau (Photo by Candese Charles)

“We need to increase student achievement across the board. To accomplish this, we need dedicated, life long educators in our classrooms.”


Chau, 27, is a Contra Costa County law clerk. If elected, he will prioritize student achievement, demand accountability and transparency, and protect student safety.

  • He is against charter schools that divert money away from students to profit-driven shareholders and believes that charter schools do not produce better results than public schools. (Check Hannah Lawson and Zainab Khan’s coverage on Pro Charter School PACS:
  • Will work on managing teacher retention by setting teachers up for success by increasing professional development days, collaboration opportunities, and teacher salary.
  • Believes that great teachers are needed to inspire students, and having quality teachers in the classroom will motivate students to go to school and combat high truancy rates.
  • According to Chau, WCCUSD needs more community organizers that will reach out to parents, especially low-income families who may not have traditional work schedules.
  • WCCUSD needs a simple and interactive website that illustrates the spending of every bond dollar. “Taxpayers should know where every dollar goes with a few clicks of the mouse,” Chau said.

Otheree Christian

Otheree Christian

Otheree Christian (Photo by Candese Charles)

(Christian discusses Truancy in WCCUSD)


Christian, 46, is a product of Richmond public schools, lives in the Iron Triangle community, and is the lead campus security officer at El Cerrito High School. He also serves as the president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Richmond Chapter, and president of the Iron Triangle Neighborhood Council. If elected, Christian’s top three priorities will be school safety, students at the center, and hiring and retaining qualified teachers.

  • Favors public education and is against the increase of charter schools.
  • Believes that teacher’s salaries should be increased in order to aid teacher retention.
  • Wants to reinstate a truancy officer who will work with parents on a solution to resolve the high truancy rate.
  • Plans to engage the community through a strong outreach program. WCCUSD should partner with community organizations to help steer children in the right direction.
  • As elected school board member, Christian will make sure that WCCUSD will be transparent with the Bond Oversight Committee and with every decision made concerning community and families.

Valerie Cuevas

Valerie Cuevas (Photo by Candese Charles) Valerie Cuevas (Photo by Candese Charles)[/caption]

(Valerie Cuevas on charter schools in the district)





Cuevas, 41, is the interim executive director of The Education Trust – West, a statewide education policy, research and advocacy organization that works to close the gaps in opportunity and achievement for students of color and students in poverty. If elected, Cuevas will ensure that students read at grade level, send more dollars to school sites and recruit, support, and keep great teachers.



  • She is a strong advocate for quality, public education and does not support school vouchers or for-profit charter education providers. Believes that WCCUSD needs to increase the quality of all district schools in order for charter school demands to decrease.
  • Will manage teacher retention by providing teachers with quality school leaders, peer feedback, developmental supports, career opportunities, professional agency, and financial resources.
  • Cuevas will use data to identify which schools have the highest truancy rates and will partner with community based organization and parent leaders to intervene on chronic absenteeism.
  • According to Cuevas, the best way to engage the community is to increase community participation in the Local Control Accountability Plan process and to ensure that district parent involvement activities offer real opportunities for meaningful engagement. (Here’s coverage on how parent involvement in the Local Control Accountability Plan:
  • Plans on asking WCCUSD to consider televising or live streaming all of the Board’s official subcommittee meetings, which include the Citizen’s Bond Oversight Committee (CBOC) meetings, which would increase public accessibility and awareness of the bond program.

Raquel Donoso

Raquel Donoso

Raquel Donoso

(Raquel Donoso details her stance on charter schools in WCCUSD)




Donoso, 39, is a district parent and the Director of the Mission Promise Neighborhood (MPN) at the Mission Economic Development Agency where she assists with building the pipeline of success from an early age to careers. If elected, Donoso is committed to increase learning and achievement for all students, build parent and community engagement, and hold stronger accountability between WCCUSD and the community.

  • As a parent, Donoso understands how difficult it can be to find a school that will provide the best education for one’s child. She believes that many charter school options are available and WCCUSD needs to strengthen neighborhood schools.
  • She will manage teacher retention by supporting increases in teacher salaries and providing paid professional development opportunities that will improve teaching in the classroom.
  • Donoso believes that community partnerships are an essential element in reducing truancy. WCCUSD needs to communicate effectively to parents that their role is crucial in getting their kids to school on time.
  • She plans on engaging the community by promoting meaningful parent involvement, fostering stronger partnerships with diverse organizations and programs, increasing volunteer opportunities and communicating effectively with the community about school events.
  • In order to increase the transparency of the bond program, Donoso plans on strengthening annual reports that include a comprehensive review of bond program activities, request a more user-friendly website, and create a yearly community outreach plan that informs the community about WCCUSD’s plans.

Ayana Kirkland Young

Ayana Kirkland Young (Photo by Hannah Lawson)

Ayana Kirkland Young (Photo by Hannah Lawson)

(Ayana Kirkland Young lays out deterrents to truancy)





Kirkland Young, 38, is a district mother, attorney and an active member of Stewart Parent Teacher Association. If elected, she will ensure that WCCUSD focuses on educating students and not construction issues, provide resources for teachers to increase successful classrooms, and build parent and community involvement.



  • She is not for or against charter schools but values traditional public education and believes that WCCUSD needs to address its problems and come up with solutions that will decrease parent’s concerns towards public education.
  • Will manage teacher retention by providing teachers with helpful resources, listen to their concerns, and work out a district salary increase.
  • According to Kirkland Young, the problem with high truancy rates is the lack of policy enforcement. She suggested harsher disciplinary actions for both parents and students. However, truancy officers need to review the broader picture and consider factors such as homelessness.
  • Plans on working with a diverse number of neighborhood groups that have established relationships with students and joining resources to increase community engagement.
  • She believes that transparency is not the only problem concerning the bond program and that there’s overall misconduct with district funds and it needs to change.

Madeline Kronenberg

Madeline Kronenberg (Photo by Hannah Lawson)

Madeline Kronenberg (Photo by Hannah Lawson)

(Madeline Kronenberg lays out her plan to increase community engagement. )





Kronenberg, 67, is an educator, parent, and incumbent school board member. If re-election she will work towards increasing student achievement, continue to engage the whole community as partners in growing the college and career success of WCCUSD students, and expand Full Service Community Schools and the arts program.


  • Though Kronenberg voted to approve charter schools that met state Education Code requirements, she says that an increase in charter schools will reduce the already scare resources available to the students who remain in their neighborhood schools. She believes that this is a social justice issue that must be addressed. (Want to know about charter schools already in the district, Candese Charles has more on the story:
  • To manage teacher retention, she plans to continue her efforts to support teachers by providing professional development training that is requested by each site. She also wants to increase the additional compensation for teachers who receive National Board Certification and work towards putting resources into the district’s teacher salary schedule.
  • Wants to expand the arts programs, Full Service community schools, and the Linked-learning program to engage students and turn truancy rates around.
  • With the help of the newly hired, Director of Community Engagement, Kronenberg plans to direct her efforts in coordinating services between the District, parents, our local non-profit community, the philanthropy community and our business community to enhance community engagement in improving our schools.
  • Believes that posting all committee documents online, creating a comment forum for community feedback, and redesigning agendas to include action items will increase transparency between bond program committees and the WCCUSD community/families?

Elaine Merriweather

Elaine Merriweather (photo by Candese Charles)

Elaine Merriweather (photo by Candese Charles)

“WCCUSD salaries need to be more competitive with other districts in the Bay Area to retain good teachers.”


Merriweather, 54, is an educator, parent and incumbent school board member. If re-elected, she will prioritize equity, increase academic performance, develop community partnerships and work for safer schools.

  • Merriweather opposes the increase of charter schools in the district because charter schools have an impact on WCCUSD enrollment and funding.
  • In order to manage teacher retention, Merriweather would develop a Teacher Retention Committee that would consist of teachers, principals, and district staff and would develop a recruitment plan. The plan would include ongoing professional development, new teacher support, and incentives for experienced teachers to mentor new teachers. (During previous forums Merriweather details how teacher retention has been combated so far, Faviola Leyva has the story:
  • According to Merriweather, WCCUSD must work directly with parents by providing information on the importance of school attendance and would encourage School Sites to create attendance plans.
  • Merriweather mentioned that the Local Control Accountability Plan would be implementing community outreach workers and parent liaisons for targeted schools to help with outreach.
  • Believes that transparency between the bond program committee and families is important. Families should have direct access to the bond program and maybe the meetings should be televised.

Mister Phillips

Mister Phillips (Photo by Candese Charles)

Mister Phillips (Photo by Candese Charles)

“I think working collaboratively with community stakeholders to improve the quality of education in traditional public schools is the answer.”



Phillips, 36, is an attorney, family man, and First 5 Contra Costa Children and Families Commissioner. If elected, his three main priorities will be safety, student engagement, and academic achievement.

  • Opposes the increase of charter schools because they drain needed funds from traditional public schools.
  • Will manage employee retention by treating all employees with dignity and respect and by advocating for fair wages, benefits, and working conditions, including increased professional development, training, and other support systems for employees.
  • In order to reduce truancy, WCCUSD has to address school safety and student engagement. According to Phillips, if students do not feel safe at school, they will not go and if students do not feel engaged at school, they will not stay.
  • Will increase community engagement by collaborating with community stakeholders, including but not limited to students, parents, district advisory committees, district employees, the community college district, local government, the business community, and non-profit organizations.
  • Phillips plans on making meaningful information regarding the bond program readily available and easily accessible to the Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee and the general public – information should be provided via the Internet and in hardcopy in multiple languages.

Chester Stevens

Chester Stevens (Photo by Candese Charles)

Chester Stevens (Photo by Candese Charles)

“I do not support predator groups that seek to replace traditional non-profit schools with charter schools.”

Stevens’ background consists of 30 years of experience as an engineer/manager in corporate America, 15 years of advocating for a better education system. He’s worked as a guest college lecturer, tutor, and teacher. He’s also a published author, musician, and member of School Site Councils. If elected, Stevens will prioritize the achievement gap, parent engagement, and building technology in the classroom.

  • Against the increase of charter schools and as a school board member he’ll provide fair consideration to charter school petitions. Instead he plans to focus on the improvement of WCCUSD schools.
  • Plans on making teaching more attractive by increasing salary and using innovative recruitment strategies.
  • Stevens plans to address truancy, “by not boring them [students] to death,” and that every student needs to learn skills and apply themselves to “something meaningful and useful,” he said.
  • Interested in engaging the parents of children by hiring and training an effective community outreach director who will engage parents as partners, and will increase their access to their child’s school. ( For coverage on what Stevens and other candidates said about community engagement and more at the last youth-led forum follow the link:
  • Will create a culture of fiscal integrity where every dollar that goes through the bond program is accounted for.
Ayana Kirkland Young
Madeline Kronberg
Valerie Cuevas
Otheree Christian
Raquel Donoso


  1. Edwin on October 30, 2014 at 1:56 pm

    Beyond a doubt, Elaine Merriweather is one of the most knowledgeable people running for a school board position this year. As an educator, a civic leader, and now a chairwoman of Richmond’s personnel board, Elaine has done it all. In all she does, Merriweather also exemplifies integrity, fairness, and thoughtfulness. Elaine will continue to use those qualities to create a better balance between academics and extracurricular activities… We need Elaine. Elaine needs you. Vote for her this Tuesday, Nov. 4th to keep a person of integrity on the school board and spread the word to others of your intention. I am hoping for her success. Thanks for your support.

    • Marklee on October 30, 2014 at 2:47 pm

      Oh, Edwin, you kidder, you! I laughed SO HARD reading your gut-busting, tongue-in-cheek comment about Elaine. Kudos for your hilarity; it certainly gave me a big smile and brightened up my day. Can’t wait for your next comedic masterpiece 😀

      • Edwin on October 30, 2014 at 5:49 pm

        According to the Contra Costa Times article
        “West Contra Costa school district receives full service schools award

        By Theresa Harrington Contra Costa Times
        Posted: 10/29/2014 06:44:54 AM PDT
        Updated: 10/29/2014 06:45:24 AM PDT

        RICHMOND — The West Contra Costa school district has earned a 2014 Golden Bell Award from the California School Boards Association in recognition of the full range of services it provides at its schools.
        The district was recognized for its programs that prevent or reduce school violence by promoting a positive school environment and teaching conflict resolution strategies.
        The district began operating health centers on six high school campuses in 2012 to provide medical, mental health and social services for students, in addition to academic programs.
        The award, to be presented in December, recognizes outstanding programs in school districts throughout the state, according to a district news release.” Trustee Elaine Merriweather Spearheaded Full Service Community Schools; now the work the district’s staff does might have qualified for a “masterpiece.” Marklee I think perhaps you are the funny one but keep laughing… all the way to polls, into a voting booth and think
        Go Giants to get a celebratory feeling and Vote because it counts! Love you!

        • Marklee on October 30, 2014 at 8:23 pm

          Love ya back, Edwin! Everybody vote, you said the most important thing! 😀 And everybody salute our Giants!! 😀 😀

    • Giorgio Cosentino on October 31, 2014 at 8:09 pm

      I can’t vote for Mrs. Merriweather because I want change, but I will say she captured my heart for a second when she was the only “no” vote for the DeAnza ROTC program, saying that she believed the money could be better spent on such things as science teaching materials. As a former Richmond High Science teacher, those words meant a lot to me.

  2. Lisa on October 31, 2014 at 7:18 am

    To Ms. Block and Ms. Cuevas,

    Can you tell the voters how up to present you have engaged with our schools? Have you volunteered in our schools? If so, where and in what capacity? How many school board meetings have you been to this year? How many academic subcommittee meetings have you been to? How many facilities subcommittee meetings have you been to? Did you attend any of the strategic plan meetings in the District? What about CBOC meetings? If so, what is your takeaway from all of that? Did you apply or try to apply for the LCAP advisory committee? To me, you seem to be total outsiders to this District and here only to further the means of school choice forces. If you really cared about our children, you would have been involved long ago. I hope the voters think about that as they go to the polls. To Ms. Block, if you have no ties to the charter school forces, they where did they get those lovely pictures of you that they are circulating on the mailers, and do you plan any actions for copyright infringement? Finally, how can both of you stay independent in thought when Mr. Chamberlin had advocated so hard for your election?

  3. Giorgio Cosentino on November 1, 2014 at 7:31 am

    Chester Stevens took a stand in 1995, against the required reading of Huck Finn because of the numerous uses of the “N” word. I can’t imagine being an African-American child, being forced to read this book! Google his name + San Jose Schools + Huck Finn to read about it.

  4. Jess on November 2, 2014 at 9:34 am

    You spelled Kronenberg’s name wrong in the picture caption at the top of this article. Get the little things right and I’ll be more likely to trust your veracity on the bigger things you present as accurate reporting.

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